While Israel’s Eurovision celebrations are in full gear towards the finals of the song contest on Saturday, a more solemn event passed with rather little notice from most Jewish Israelis. Yesterday, May 15th, was Nakba Day.
The Israeli week of commemoration — starting with Holocaust Day, continuing with Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, and culminating in the ecstasy of Independence Day — has already passed. But Nakba Day is marked on the Latin calendar, instead of the lunar calendar like Israeli holidays, and so this year it fell among the Eurovision celebration which has come to Israel following Netta Barzilai’s victory in the contest last year with her song “Toy”.
Thus, yesterday, at the Entin Square of the Tel Aviv campus, a ceremony was held to commemorate the Nakba, marking the dispossession and exile of most of the Palestinians from the area which became Israel, the Jewish state. Subsequent ethnic cleansings, like the massive one in 1967 and other smaller campaigns, are part of what is known as the “ongoing Nakba”. This ceremony has been a recurring event since 2012. Ironically, the first, massively-attended event, came just after the passing of the “Nakba law” in 2011, a law which prohibits public institutions from commemorating the Nakba, entailing a penalty of state-fund withdrawal.
The event in 2012 caused massive public and governmental uproar, where also Education Minister Gidon Sa’ar urged the University to cancel it. In response to these pressures, the University took measures to distance itself from the event, without forbidding it: It required the organisers to pay for security, to avoid using loudspeakers, and has demanded that the students change the name of the event from “ceremony” to “protest” or “assembly”. One of the main organisers, Noa Levy, commented on the latter:
[A]s if the Zionists have a monopoly on what can be considered a commemoration ceremony. We’re still trying to fight this.
At the same square, at the same time, a supposed “counter-demonstration” was taking place. The crowd here was mainly represented by the fascist Im Tirtzu group, which incites against human rights activists, framing them as “foreign agents”. The term “fascist” was also noted by a Jerusalem court judge as a legitimate title to describe the group. And since 2012, the story has basically repeated itself, albeit with lesser crowds and attention: a Nakba ceremony, with a parallel demonstration by Im Tirtzu. Entin Square is adjacent to Tel Aviv University and considered public grounds, but the University does provide security for the space even if it is not responsible for content of events that take place there as such.
Eitan Bronstein Apparicio, who was with the Israeli organization Zochrot in 2012 (and now heads De-colonizer), tells me that the event in 2012 was, by far the biggest Nakba commemoration in Israeli history in what he calls “Jewish public space”. That is to say, although there are “return marches” going to different destroyed villages each year, this event was taking place smack in the midst of Jewish Tel Aviv. And most do not think of ‘liberal’ Tel Aviv as a symbol of Nakba dispossession – despite the fact that it is situated upon 8 destroyed villages. Tel Aviv University campus itself is placed on top of what used to be a-Sheikh Muwannis. Few Jewish Israelis think about it today.
Yesterday, the Im Tirtzu fascists had a novel idea – to play last year’s Israeli Eurovision winner song “Toy” on loudspeakers – as the ceremony was holding a minute of silence for the Nakba victims.
Noa Levy wrote a Facebook status about this one (Hebrew):
At the Nakba Day ceremony, today at the university, “Im Tirtzu” played from across in full volume Netta Barzilai’s TOY during the minute of silence. This returned me in a boom to these days last year – when I drove with a colleague to a demonstration against the moving of the USA embassy to Jerusalem, where on the way there began to come reports about what was happening in Gaza: 60 protesters were killed in a day by IDF fire. As the figures kept rising, our spirits falling, we reached the demonstration – which was legal and approved, which was then nonetheless dispersed with gross violence by the Border Police. In the evening we heard, that despite the horrific scenes from the shooting in Gaza, there are huge celebrations in Tel Aviv due to the winning of the Eurovision. And today, a year later, protesters are still killed in Gaza once every few weeks, there are bombings every few months, and between one round of violence and the next, the siege continues to exact a heavy price from all the civilians in the strip – whose future, life and health are gone. As a first response – the excellent clip by Adi Granot”.
That is a great clip, a bitter parody on “Toy”, which I had reported about at the time, noting also an excellent similar Dutch parody, which was predictably attacked as “anti-Semitic”. And Noa Levy has an admirable sense of justice and empathy, which leads her to activism that is especially meant to affect the Israeli mind. Notice how she describes her idea of doing a ceremony modelled on other Israeli commemoration ceremonies:
“That’s how I got the idea for an “Israeli” ceremony. It was clear to me that Israelis understand very well the emotional aspect of mourning, of national trauma, of a painful history that determines the future. Not for naught is Israel the world champion in monuments per kilometer and in memorial ceremonies in public schools. Israelis understand the transformation of personal mourning into a state-sponsored public activity; it’s familiar to them, visible. The idea of using the model of “Yizkor” [the traditional memorial text], a minute of silence, in a ceremony directly referencing the Israel model arose already in that first meeting. It was clear to us that the discussion and argument about a ceremony like that would be completely different. It wouldn’t be a ceremony presenting a structured political or national narrative, which would awaken the instinctive antagonism of the average Israeli, but one recounting a disaster and suffering in an emotional, symbolic manner that anyone could identify with. I also knew that the media would be very interested – as opposed to a discussion, a tour or a political lecture. A formal ceremony is very photogenic, creates headlines by virtue of its association with national catastrophes of the Jewish people and is a way to bring the Nakba into the Israeli public space.”
(See the full interview of Noa Levy with Eitan Bronstein Apparicio in Zochrot).
And this is the moral astuteness and honor that the Im Tirtzu rabble seek to destroy. They have shared a coverage of the event from their side on Facebook, with constant narration. They also speak on a loudspeaker in Arabic, saying things like:
You speak of grief on our Independence Day. The only grief is that you’re still here still studying at Tel Aviv University”…”You, who are studying at Israeli universities are nothing but hypocrites, you have no morals nor religion, you have no future, we, Israelis, hold our heads high forever and ever, we wish you all a happy Nakba day – yes, happy Nakba day…
To understand the depravity, one can look at Im Tirtzu’s event poster, as they shared on Facebook, which I will translate some of. Its title is “Mesinakba” – that, is, “Nakba party”, and it also says “Nakba bullshit”. “2 hours of wild sensation , 71 years of victory, a CONQUERING lunch party” (“conquering” is a parody on the occupation, which the Hebrew term for the occupation is actually “conquering”). It says “free entry for Zionists from age 18 by showing a blue [Israeli] ID card”, and the cartoon features a Palestinian with a kaffiyeh and a green band (alluding to Hamas), pulling down his one eye in a motion which symbolizes “seriously??”.
This is what these hooligans consider “tongue in cheek”, “chutzpah”, which is supposedly harmless. But they are inciting to racist violence, often against specific people. And the ideology behind their Nakba denial is actually huge, it’s national. Israel has been denying the Nakba since its inception, and the aforementioned Nakba law is merely one representation of an overwhelming societal denial. A reality check on this is useful – imagine a Holocaust or Memorial Day ceremony somewhere in Israel, where in that minute of silence, Palestinians come and blast it with some music which represents them, and then continue incessantly to shout obscenities at against Jews, saying they don’t belong there, there’s no Holocaust, etc. It’s unthinkable. They would be stopped by the police, probably violently so, taken in for interrogation, probably jailed for disrupting public order or maybe support for terrorism. I mean, it was enough for poet Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, to write “Resist them”, and bang, years in house arrest and months in prison. But no – Im Tirtzu can do this, and this is a supposedly “even-handed” approach by the university and the police.
H/t Tali Shapira, Danielle Alma Ravitzki, Rawan Natsheh, Tamara Lombardo, Reham Darwish, Tom Pessah